Umami Mart Registry

(Don't have time to make Japanese curry from scratch? Check out Yoko's Easy Japanese Curry recipe.)

For two months, Kayoko and I at curry for dinner almost every night. As our "How to Make Japanese" curry event in San Francisco's 18 Reasons approached, we stewed our way to a curry that was rich and full of umami, WITHOUT using premade, boxed roux.

Attempting to make Japanese curry from scratch was very challenging given the fact that literally NO ONE around us had ever made curry without using boxed roux -- not even MOTO. There were resources on the internet, but each one was so different, it was hard to decipher which one to trust.

My first attempt at making curry from scratch included a long list of random things that were taken from other recipes and my best guess items. My first failure was credited to the fact that I used chicken. From this first attempt, it was clear that using chicken and chicken broth, would not yield a curry that was as rich and strong in taste as the boxed roux.

My second attempt was better. I used stew meat and boxed beef broth. But the taste was still lacking. There just wasn't enough body.

And then Kayoko made her own beef broth at home by boiling femur bones. One small step for (wo)man, one giant leap for umami! We were getting so close to the final recipe after the revelation of making our own beef broth -- but something was still missing.

So I tried roasting the bones before making the actual broth. And this time, I used marrow bones and extracted the broth in my slow cooker over two days. There was a layer of fat so thick that my house smelled like a Chinese restaurant for days. It was comforting to wake up in the morning and come home to this smell. But I am sure if I had roommates, they wouldn't have been as thrilled. But this was IT! From this point forward, it was absolutely clear that roasting bones (preferably marrow) and then making broth was the key to, and, heart of Japanese curry.

After several curry dinner parties and night after night of testing, we came up with a final recipe that we felt confident enough to teach. And it was just in time -- about a week before we were to teach the class.

Kayoko and I have been teaching a series of classes at the 18 Reasons since last summer. 18 Reasons is a non-profit food community space affiliated with Bi-Rite, a popular grocery store in San Francisco. We've taught a shochu seminar and a shio-koji cooking class prior to the curry class at 18 Reasons, but we were extra nervous about this one because this was the first class where we would be demonstrating in the test kitchen.

And now we present to you the recipe! Behold, how to make Japanese curry from SCRATCH!

There are two parts to making Japanese curry from scratch. An essential part of it is making high quality beef stock.

Beef stock


2 qts of water
2.5 pounds beef bones (marrow or femur) in 3 inch pieces
4 peeled carrots
4 celery stalks
2 halved peeled onions
1 halved head of garlic
½ bunch flat-leaf parsley stems
4 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon black peppercorns


1. Preheat oven to 450°F.

2. Roast marrow bones (have your butcher saw them into pieces) in a roasting pan, turning occasionally, until browned, 25–30 minutes.

3. Cut carrots and celery into 3” pieces; add to pan along with onions and garlic.

4. Roast, turning occasionally, until vegetables are brown, 25–30 minutes.

5. Transfer bones and vegetables to a large stockpot; add cold water to cover.

6. Add ½ cup water to the pan, and stir, scraping up browned bits

7. Add liquid to pot along with parsley, thyme, bay leaves, and black peppercorns.

8. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and transfer to a slow cooker. Leave overnight. For best results, leave for two nights. If you don't have a slow cooker, leave on stovetop on low for at least 4 hours.

9. After the long simmer, strain the broth.

Japanese Curry

We now get into the meat and potatoes (literally) of this recipe.


2 qts of beef stock
4 onions, sliced
5 tbsp evoo
2 lbs chuck roast or wagyu beef steak half day in 4 tbsp shio-koji
3 large russet potatoes cut in half then in 1/6s
3 carrots cut in 2-3 inch pieces
3 cloves of garlic, sliced

2 tbsp curry
1 tbsp garum
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp tumeric
4 tbsp worcestershire sauce
4 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp bulldog (tonkatsu sauce)
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp shio koji
1 tbsp instant coffee
1 dried togarashi

4 tbsp flour

Kitchenware and tools:
1 large stockpot
2 small mixing bowls
1 large bowls to set sauted onions aside
Wooden spoon
Sharp chef’s knife
Small saucepan for roux


1. Cut beef into 1 in cubes. Place in a ziplock bag with 4 tbsp of shio koji. This will tenderize the meat. Leave for 1/2 to 1 day.

2. Place the onions for 4 min in the microwave. Mix them around and cook in the microwave for another 4 min.

3. In a large stock pot, heat 3tbsp of EVOO. Add the garlic and microwaved onions. Make sure the onions cover the whole surface of the pot. Keep on high. Don't stir. You'll smell the caramelizing. Turn off heat once you start smelling the browning (approximately 5 min).

4. Remove onions from pot. Don't clean the pot.

5. Add 2 tbsp of EVOO. Remove beef from ziplock bag and place beef as one layer in pot on med-hi. Don't stir. Heat until the meat is browned (approximately 5 min).

6. Add onions back in and stir beef and onions.

7. Add potatoes and carrots.

8. Submerge in beef stock, add water if it doesn't cover it completely.

9. Combine all of the spices in a small bowl: 2 tbsp curry, 1 tbsp garum, 1 tbsp cumin, 1 tbsp tumeric, 4 tbsp worcestershire sauce, 4 tbsp ketchup, 1 tbsp honey, 2 tbsp bulldog, 1 tbsp fish sauce, 1 tbsp shio koji, 1 tbsp instant coffee, 1 dried togarashi. Then add that mix to the pot.


Inspecting the list of spices.


10. Bring to boil. Bring down to lowest setting on your stove.


11. In a small bowl, combine 4 tbsp of flour* and 4 tbsp of the curry liquid in the pot. Introduce the flour into the liquid portion slowly and mix well. It will end in a clay like consistency. Introduce this mixture one tablespoon at a time into the main pot.

*We had a couple of gluten free students and simply substituted rice flour for regular flour. It worked really well!


Working the roux into the regular and gluten-free versions.


12. The curry should have the consistency of a thick tomato soup. If it still seems watery, repeat the previous step. Mix the pot well.


13. Simmer for 120 min on low. For best results, simmer for up to 4 hours on low.


14. Our student Jay says "Don't forget to steam the rice!"


Phew! That was intense. Because this class took the most preparation our of all the ones so far, it was really one of the most rewarding events we've done at 18 Reasons. But, in all honestly, making Japanese curry from scratch is really labor-intensive and it may be a really long time before Kayoko or I make this ourselves again. Perhaps until we schedule another one of these!


And now the best part of the class: Eat and drink!


This grin was probably because I was relieved we made it through the whole class without anyone getting burned or cutting themselves on the mandolin.




Don't have time to make Japanese curry from scratch? Check out Yoko's Easy Japanese Curry recipe.

All photos by Chris Cabrera
Column: Japanify


  • It seems a total waste to use EVOO with curry. Any of the benefits of EVOO will be lost.

    Ken on

  • I know I’m late to the party but I found this recipe after an exhaustive search through online recipes for curry rice from scratch and was very happy with the results. Thank you! I had to make a few substitutions, replacing the shio koji with miso (not a perfect sub, I know, but it did the trick in a pinch) and I used dark stock I had on hand and amped it up with demiglace to try to reproduce the silky texture and depth of flavor that your stock would have added. I’m used to the milder chicken curry rice with curry cubes so this was deeper and darker than I expected but much more in line with the curry rice I’ve had in Japan. Silky, unctuous, complex, deep, dark, sweet and well-spiced. Four stars and much appreciation for all your hard research and work, I’m reaping the rewards and topping it with katsu for a birthday dinner for a friend tonight.

    Nathalie on

  • Thank you for this (and all of the from-scratch Japanese recipe posts—I recently moved really far from any decent Asian markets/restaurants and it’s been killing me). The curry looks time-consuming, but so delicious and worthwhile. I’ve been having the same problem with making Japanese curry from scratch. And what’s up with cookbooks including a “recipe” for Japanese curry that uses the roux cubes and is basically just the instructions on the back on the box?!

    Malia on

  • Hmm. But, what about vegetarian Japanese curry. There are several Japanese brand curry cubes that have no animal products. So, it seems like you are missing something by relying solely on bones.

    But, you are probably right about the caramelization.

    km on

  • I accidentally made japanese curry sauce once by simply mixing miso paste with a mild curry powder. Maybe give that a try? I ate it and was like… this tastes so familiar… like JAPANESE CURRY!

    Hanna on

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